Myles Brand 64 takes pride in defying expectations. Before he was 18, Brand rarely ventured far from his boyhood home in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and yet he went on to become president of two large state universities: the University of Oregon and Indiana University. He received degrees in philosophy from institutions known for technology. A bench sitter with no marked athletic ability, he was recently appointed, unanimously, to head up the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Ive never thought of myself as a salmon swimming upstream, Brand says, when the metaphor is suggested to describe his career. But I suppose that a willingness to think differently was instilled in me as a student at Rensselaer and remains with me to this day.
Brand spent his first two years at Rensselaer studying mechanical engineering before becoming a philosophy major; he recalls that both were rigorous academic programs that demanded discipline and hard work, logical and analytical thinking, and commitment.
In the first couple of years at RPI, I lived in fear that I wasnt going to make it, he laughs. The heavy academic competition and long hours spent in the classrooms and labs didnt allow him to get too far beyond his room at the E-dorm, although he did join a fraternity and eventually got an off-campus apartment. He played a little basketball and a bit of lacrosse in his freshman year, but athletics became a less and less important part of his college experience.
I was really immersed in the academic side, Brand says. And I wasnt very good at athletics. Although much has been made of the fact that the NCAA president was not a college athlete, hes no couch potato. The trim scholar and his wife, Peg Brand, an artist and philosophy professor at Indiana, enjoy a variety of outdoor activities.
Despite a distinguished career in higher education, Myles Brand was far from a household name before September 2000when he was catapulted into the national spotlight for disciplining and finally firing Indianas legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight. With the national sports media covering every act of the drama in Bloomington, Knight promised to change his volatile behavior toward students, staff, and fans, but his failure to do so prompted Brand to dismiss the coach in the end.
It was a move applauded by many who believed it was too long in coming, while others were aghast that a university president would fire the coach who was synonymous with Indiana basketball. Brand himself chooses not to dwell on this episode in his long career, but the controversy placed him squarely in the public eye, bringing invitations for interviews in national publications, appearances on news and sports shows, and speeches in venues like the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. In that speech, delivered Jan. 23, 2001, Brand said that it was time to put academics first and cut back on the arms race in college sports that was beginning to threaten academic integrity. We are not sports franchises, he said in that now oft-repeated speech, but proffered, I do not want to turn off the game; I just want to lower the volume.
He found support from the other Big Ten Conference presidents, who took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune supporting his decision. Many others in academic and sports institutions, including heads of the Association of American Universities, American Council on Education, and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, applauded his integrity and resolve. Even his most vocal critic on the Indiana faculty, Murray Sperberwho insisted that Brand let Knight stay on too longgave him a begrudging nod of approval for his ultimate handling of the problem.
|Rensselaer Magazine: March 2003|
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